Tuesday, September 2, 2008

And a good Labor Day to you, too!

Our apartment looks like a campsite exploded in it.

In our library room, you'll find Charlie's tent, our two plastic bins of camping gear, a pile of stinky laundry, and various other bits and pieces that suggest we might have spent a weekend in the woods. Our kitchen plays host to half-eaten bags of trail mix, a sink heaping with camping dishes, and the remains of a lunch I'm trying to scarf down before attending to it all.

So, if you guessed that we spent Labor Day hiking and camping our little hearts out, you hit the nail on the head.

In somewhat of an 11th hour decision, Charlie and I selected the Eagle Cap Wilderness area as our Labor Day destination. The forecast called for "abundant sun" on Saturday, clouds on Sunday, and chilly "fall-like" temperatures for Sunday night. So we packed sweaters, gloves, and a bit of wool and polar fleece, and hit the road early Saturday morning. When it comes to getting out of the house early in the morning, Charlie and I are not yet experts. We'd determined that our departure time needed to fall between 6:30 and 7:00 am, since we had a 5 hour drive to the trailhead in Eastern Oregon (yuck). We left close to 7:30--I was feeling a little disappointed with our inability to get out the door, until I realized that just by the sheer magic of driving west, we'd gain an hour as we crossed from Mountain to Pacific time zones.

Saturday we had a gorgeous day of hiking full of rivers and peaks, blurred in my memory by a sweaty forehead and a trail that just never quit with the uphill climbing. Charlie, on the other hand was a robot when it came to reaching our destination. I don't think I ever saw a drop of sweat on his brow. When I'd arrive at a top of a tough patch, huffing and puffing like a locomotive, and trying to keep sweaty strands of hair out of my face he'd be standing there, gazing out over the view, cool as a cucumber, ready to move on. In all, we only did 6.3 miles, and about 1800 ft of elevation gain. I think I need to get in better condition before we plan any week-long loop hikes.

Our first night at the campground was nice. The lake was beautiful, but packed full of people. One of the funnier moments of the trip occurred just after we'd chosen our campsite. The clouds had blown in and the wind had picked up, and, with Charlie vouching that the coast was clear, I quick stripped down to my skivvies, and was one leg into a warmer pair of pants when a woman from the next campsite over comes bounding over the ridge "Halloooo"-ing with a smile. I sat down quick on a crumbly log (I probably have slivers in my butt that I don't even know about), and tossed my pants over my lap. It turns out she and her husband were on a eight-day backpacking trip with their two daughters and two dogs and she'd forgotten to bring along soap. They were planning on fishing, and that seemed foolish and pretty grimy without anything to wash-up with. First of all, let me point out that their daughters were probably 6 and 10. It took me a few minutes to get past the fact that they were planning a trip of that caliber with kids that young. Wow. I almost forgot that I didn't have any pants on. After asking for just a moment so that I could get dressed, we were able to get them a baggie of campsoap and send her on her way.

We didn't get rid of them entirely, though, as the two girls spent the evening and most of the next day galloping around the lake side, sneaking behind trees, and making a game out of spying on the neighbors (us). We were continually entertained by little blond heads dashing about and giggling, and snuffly dogs checking out our tent in the morning.

Our first night on the lake was nice. We hiked a little up the hill behind our site and found a campfire ring (we were too close to the lake in our site for one), and had a nice crackly little fire. It was a chilly night, so it was much appreciated. Saturday night, both Charlie and I woke up at some point to the sound of ice pellets hitting and rolling off the tent. Chilly indeed!

Across the lake.

Our original plan had been to spend one night at Minam Lake (pictured above), and then climb a ridge and camp our second night at Mirror Lake. But, the combination of soft feet and new-ish boots left me with quarter-sized blisters on both my heels. By the time we reached the lake, they were looking awful, but hadn't burst yet (hooray for moleskin and creative band-aid-ing). That, and hearing from a few hikers that Mirror Lake was thronged with people, I asked Charlie if perhaps we could consider staying put at Minam Lake, and taking a day hike around the area on Sunday instead. He was fine with that idea, so we packed up and moved to a new campsite on the other side of the lake and set out in search of another little lake in the area: Blue Lake.

According to our guidebook, Blue Lake was only .9 miles from where we were and we'd gain about 400 ft in elevation getting there. We saw a signpost in a cairn of rocks pointing the way, but it didn't really seem to indicate much of a trail. Charlie thought that we should take the thinner trail, but I talked him into taking the more well-trod one, with the thought that maybe the sign had gotten spun around a little.
Of course, that wasn't the case. We didn't end up making it out to Blue Lake, but we did find ourselves in the Minam River Valley. It was beautiful, with sweeping green valley walls, and granite peaks looming overhead. There was also an icy wind blowing, which made us decide to turn around after a short lunch stop.

Minan River Valley

When we arrived back at our campsite, the wind was still blowing, and we unfortunately had to spend an absolutely outrageous amount of time pumping water (my filter needs to be replaced, and it started giving up the "volume" ghost on this trip--water was still clean, it just came out veeerrrrryyyyy slowly). By the time we'd finished with that (squatting unceremoniously on a rock in the lake with cold water pouring over my hands doing the same repetitive motion again and again, all with that darn cold wind blowing), I was kind of stiff and cranky. I decided to go take a nap in the tent and try to warm up. Charlie was kind enough to get a picture.

Not my finest moment.

He was also kind enough to find a bunch of wood and get a crackling fire going. It took great effort, but I dragged myself out of the tent and joined him. And I was glad I did. We spent the rest of that evening by the fire, until about 8:30 (it was dark), it began SNOWING. It was small, pellety snow--it almost looked like it should have been in a snow globe. We washed dishes at super-speed and threw our things together, and threw ourselves into the tent. It was somewhat hilarious, but also extremely cozy to fall asleep with the sound of snow on the tent roof and walls.

We woke up to 1/2" coating everything, and a layer of icy water frozen on the rainfly of the tent.


Monday was a quick day. We ate breakfast in the chilly air (somehow redeemed a little by the dusting of snow--I told Charlie that I think it was probably just as cold as the day prior, but somehow my brain understood the temperature better because I could see the snow), and enjoyed an amazing, still morning on the lake before we packed up and hit the trail.

Monday morning lake.

It was a quick hike out, and a long drive home, but we had an amazing time. The only thing that could have made it better would have been to share it with family and friends. So, clear your calendars--we're hoping to get back to this part of Oregon next summer, and you're cordially invited. Hearing large groups of campers laughing across the lake on Sunday night, made us wish we had a few more faces in our camping party. So, who's on board? :)

Oh, and finally, one parting shot--we're still adjusting to a few things about not living in Portland, and about living in a more "outdoorsy" place. Spotted on the highway headed home between Baker City and Boise. Idaho plates, but I think he bagged half of Oregon!

Heading home.

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